Forte: A chain of sound and connection


Denise Dillenbeck, Yakima Symphony Orchestra concertmaster.

Every day I walk through a nearby park. It’s my perennial pleasure to hear the red-winged blackbirds trill, letting me know spring is here. This year, a new tiny friend has become a reliable delight on my walk. When the path leads down a hill on a level with the top tree branches, I see a bright green hummingbird. He sits at rest, quietly overseeing the park from his perch.

What a tiny miracle of perfection he is. And how amazing that a creature so small sets off this large burst of joy in my heart. I feel like I’ve caught sight of a mythical creature, a fairy, and that my day has a little magic sparkled into it by his presence.

I’ve been thinking about birds so much lately. Many composers have tried to tap into their special magic by invoking their songs, especially when writing music about spring. Vivaldi breaks the violin section into solo voices in his “Spring Violin Concerto,” mimicking birds calling back and forth. Respighi goes so far as to include an audio recording of a nightingale in his “Pines of Rome.”

This May, I’m performing Vaughan Williams’ romance for solo violin and orchestra “The Lark Ascending” in Tacoma, if the world is back in balance by then. I get to try to sing and fly (on the violin) like a bird. The piece was inspired by a George Meredith poem, which begins:

He rises and begins to round

He drops the silver chain of sound

A stunning transformation happens; a bird sings its song, inspiring Meredith to describe it in words. Those words spark Vaughan Williams to turn the poem back into song. And I get to be the last link in the “chain of sound,” taking the notes Vaughan Williams wrote in ink on paper, setting them loose in the air as a fantasy aria of the bird.

Beauty connects us all. The hummingbird, the poet, the violinist alone in her practice room, you gazing out your window at the blossoming cherry trees. This spring I’m so thankful to remember that silver chain of connection.

• Denise Dillenbeck is Yakima Symphony Orchestra concertmaster. Learn more about her and her role at

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